Magic is science: Atheist conjuring and the exposure of superstition in South India



This article examines so-called Miracle Exposure Programs conducted by Atheist activists in South India as a performance of secular difference. It retraces how activists use the sociopsychological properties of conjuring for performing an Atheist epistemology of the production, maintenance, and eradication of “superstition.” In debunking miracles as magic tricks, Atheist conjurers consistently emphasize the importance of immoral social relationships and abuses of differential knowledge rather than questions of ontology. In contrast to the large body of anthropological theorizing on magic, the article’s main focus is the aesthetic production of secularity and secular difference. Pushing beyond the critical discourse on secular disenchantment as itself productive of magic and reenchantment, I propose to understand practices of “exposure” as an aesthetic form that enacts a reflexive distance from both magic and reenchantment insomuch as it makes their sociopsychological nature the object of performative display and sensible perception.


atheism, secularity, entertainment magic (conjuring), aesthetics, superstition

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/705467